By Steve Li, ASPIRE (Asian Students Promoting Immigrant Rights through Education) Member

In honor of National Coming Out Week: Undocumented and Unafraid we are featuring stories of API dreamers.  The DREAM Act would provide undocumented students that arrived before the age of 16 in the US a pathway to legalization.

It was a sunny morning, and like any other school day, I was in the bathroom getting ready for school when there was a loud knock on the door. I didn’t want to answer it since no one ever comes that early in the morning without notice. So I woke up my mom to see if she was expecting anyone. She said no, but they kept knocking. She got up and went to answer.

That’s when five officials dressed in black rushed in and searched the apartment. I was brushing my teeth when one opened the door and told me to get out and get dressed. I kept asking what was going on, but they wouldn’t tell me anything. Finally one of the officers asked if I knew why they were here and told me that I was undocumented and they would be deporting me back to Peru.

This is the only home I remember; my goals and dreams have always been in the Bay Area. I followed their orders, thinking it was just a mistake and that I would be back at school later that day.

Outside I was searched and handcuffed. My mother was, too. I was separated from my parents, and we were taken to Sacramento and thrown into jail where I was treated like a criminal. I went to bed hungry every night, physically and mentally exhausted.

Every day I woke up thinking that I should be going to school rather than locked up 23 hours a day. I kept asking what was happening, but I couldn’t get anywhere. Immigration officers never came to the jail. The thought of being forced to leave my home and go to a country where I no longer know anyone was devastating. It was mind-boggling, not being able to turn to any one for answers.

After three weeks in Sacramento County Jail, things started to sink in, and the little hope that I had left disappeared. I was flown to Arizona, far away from my family and friends, without being able to contact anyone.

There I spent three days in a room the size of the City College cafeteria with around 200 other people. We slept on the floor in our clothes, and I could smell the sweat and body odor of everyone around me. Some, caught crossing the border, still had mud and dirt on them; others were sick, coughing vigorously. We were packed in tight, only allowed to move to go to the bathroom.

The Detention Center in Arizona, in the middle of nowhere, was surrounded by high fences with razor blades and electrical wires with cameras and security guards everywhere. I told myself this was a nightmare and I would wake up any day now. But days turned into weeks and weeks turned into months.

The stories of others in the facility, from different parts of the world, really touched me. There were many young people like me. I met someone from Guatemala who had come here with his parents when he was very young. He had no say in immigrating and was just finishing high school when Immigration and Customs Enforcement took him into custody in Los Angeles. Now he, too, expected to be sent back to a country he had no memory of.

I was lucky to be living in the Bay Area and have my community organize to bring me home, eventually convincing Senator Feinstein to introduce a private bill to stop my deportation. But there are many DREAMers who are still incarcerated in Arizona and elsewhere. We want a chance to pursue our education, a chance to use our degrees, a chance to give back to the communities we grew up in and love.

This is not a Hispanic or an Asian issue. This is an issue that affects all of us. This will happen to more and more students, friends, and neighbors. We have a broken immigration system, and we need to fix it. I don’t want other students to go through what I went through. This is why is so important to pass the Federal DREAM Act. I’m Undocumented and unafraid.

By Catherine, ASPIRE (Asian Students Promoting Immigrant Rights through Education) Member

In honor of National Coming Out Week: Undocumented and Unafraid we are featuring stories of API dreamers.  The DREAM Act would provide undocumented students that arrived before the age of 16 in the US a pathway to legalization.

It’s Coming Out Week.

Unlike the prideful and upbeat Diana Ross song, I am not “coming out” because I “want the world to know.” The fact that I am undocumented has always been an intimate secret, a part of my identity that I’ve only shared with special, trusted people.  Sharing this secret with others has always hurt me, as if I had broken pieces from my very heart and given them away.

I am bearing the pain to write this because my own mother does not believe that I have a legitimate place in America. At the bank last week, I carried in my foreign passport for ID.  Afraid that others would see, my mom frantically insisted that it put it away as if my passport were a badge of shame, like an ankle bracelet or a mark of Cain.

My mother’s attitude led me to think of myself like the unfortunate monster in Franz Kafka’sThe Metamorphosis. The protagonist, Gregor Samsa, awakens to discover that he has experienced a sudden and irreversible transformation; he has become a repulsive insect overnight. Though he is still the same rational person inside, his changed exterior alienates him from his family. Til his last breath, Gregor futilely wishes for their acceptance.

Sometimes, I try to imagine when I became a “monster” – or rather when others began to see me as a monster. It might have been sometime in 1993. I was four years old. Overnight, my tourist visa expired and I became undocumented. It might have been sometime in high school when I finally discovered that I lacked a green card. Like Gregor, my transformation was beyond my control. No SSN meant that I was a “monster” in my own home. Being regarded as a monster caused me the deepest shame, for I was powerless without the digits that would grant me access to financial aid. I was forced to give up the university of my dreams for community college. Hot, angry tears and shout matches with my mom didn’t change anything. I was discouraged from my dream of higher education not because I lacked the talent or will, but because of the stigmatized identity imposed upon me.

Maybe one day, I thought, America will accept me with open arms. So, I kept out of trouble. (I don’t even cross the street illegally or download movies and music illegally.) So, I assimilated. (I speak English flawlessly, but I cannot speak my native language without the harsh, adulterated influence of my American accent.) So, I excelled in school, hoping that my academic success was proof enough that I was living the American Dream. (With red, white, and blue tassels on my cap, I graduated from American High School, home of the mighty Eagles.)

But then I experienced another dramatic and irreversible transformation. My real education began at UC Berkeley. I met other non-citizens, fighting to meet their basic needs in addition to handling the stresses that other students face. (Imagine missing a final exam because you’re too hungry to think.) I learned about Ozawa v. US, an Asian American who challenged the traditional understanding of citizenship. Is it white skin that makes one a citizen? Is it race? Is it level of acculturation or assimilation? In this contemporary context, should access to citizenship depend on manner of immigration?

This is a debate worth re-engaging. Young, undocumented students are facing deportation, but it isn’t clear what heinous act that they’ve committed worth any punishment, let alone one so grave. A healthy discussion exercising reason, not rhetoric, would undoubtedly be informative for both the supporters and detractors of the DREAM Act.

It’s Coming Out Week. Not only is it time for us DREAMers to assert our rightful presence in America, but it’s crucial that the topic of immigration come into the forefront of political discourse. As painful as it may be, it’s time for all of us to break out of our confining comfort zones by challenging our assumptions.
By Nelson, ASPIRE (Asian Students Promoting Immigrant Rights through Education) Member

In honor of National Coming Out Week: Undocumented and Unafraid we are featuring stories of API dreamers.  The DREAM Act would provide undocumented students that arrived before the age of 16 in the US a pathway to legalization.

Tuesday morning.

I wake up to the alarm clock’s buzz; it’s 8:30 AM.

I hit the snooze button and throw it under the covers. For the next hour, I lie half-awake, wishing the morning sun hadn’t risen yet. For the next hour, I struggle against myself, trying to rally myself to rouse, all the while berating myself for being so lazy and so worthless.

Eventually, I roll out of the bed. I take a shower and brush my teeth. Hurriedly, I munch down a small oatmeal bar, and I’m off to school. Carpooling with three of my roommates, I’m thankful for the lift. But all the while, I’m dreading the trip. I’ve got two more midterms, a couple more labs, and several more papers before this week is up. And all the while, I wonder about how my mom is doing, while she’s in back in Macau.

As a single mother with three kids, she took a big risk when she brought my sister, brother, and I to America. Hardship is nothing new to her; as the eldest of five siblings, she worked hard to make sure her three young brothers were fed and cared for after her dad passed away when she was 8. She went off to work at the local hospital as a teenager, and by age 23 had ample experience as a nurse. My father swept her off her feet and they were married, but a decade after they had exchanged vows, demanded that she leave the family so that he could situate his mistress in her place.

Desperate to protect my siblings and I, she brought us to America to stay with her relatives. While the three of us were distracted by the sights and attractions of a new land, my mom tried to sort out her marriage. When it was apparent that there was nothing for us to return to in Hong Kong, she sought help from her family her in the United States. She asked her brother, a naturalized citizen, to help petition her for residency, but misunderstandings made that plan fall apart. Instead, her cousin helped us get student visas and enroll into public schools in the city. Meanwhile, she bought a house and worked through her other cousin’s laundry business, with the intent that she’ll eventually naturalize herself and my family.

Unfortunately, that plan never worked out the way she wanted. The cousin who employed my mom, and eventually my brother and sister, paid below minimum wage and worked them for longer hours. That cousin’s parents had an eye on my mom’s house, and wanted my mom to marry their son and take care of their family, under the premise that the marriage would grant her and my siblings status. Feeling threatened, my mom broke those ties and sought work at a textiles sweatshop, while my siblings worked elsewhere. Through arthritic hands and food pantries, my mom and siblings saved up enough money to afford my sister’s college education.

Eventually, my mom began her process to legalize, but it wasn’t out of the recognition of her strong work ethic, her contribution to the nation’s economy, her dedication to her children, or to her many hours of volunteering for the community. No, the only pathway she had was through an immediate family member who was a naturalized citizen.

I arrive at the library. It’s 11:00 AM.

I whip out my notepad, and start to write. For the next hour, I wrack my brain, trying to remember past testimonies I’ve written and heard. For the next hour, my headache, from sleeping at six hours this morning and two hours the previous, beats against my skull.

Finally, the migraine gets too much. I down a couple Tylenols, and take a walk outside. I grab a croissant, and take bites between sips of water. It’s not much, but it keeps my stomach from grumbling. All the while, I worry about how this week will turn out. And all the while, I wonder about how my sister got through school, when she had so much on her plate.

See, the only way for my mom to legalize was if one of her children got married. And so, my sister got married.

It was a big risk for my sister to take that leap of faith. All the legal advice she had was from a legal clinic in Chinatown. She wasn’t entirely sure if her high school sweetheart was the “one,” but she took the chance. They took their vows and filed the paperwork, but unfortunately he ended up cheating on her. Luckily, his parents sided with my sister, and the two of them stuck through it until she was naturalized. After she received her citizenship papers, the two divorced, and my sister submitted petitions for my family to become legal residents.

My mom was the first one to receive her green card. She petitioned my brother and I soon after, but we later learned that the two of us could benefit not from the petitions, since our student visas expired long ago. If the visa numbers come up for our petitions we would have to consular process at the risk of a 10 year bar on re-entering the country, a decade from our family and friends, and from our life and home in America.

It’s been over 18 years since we first arrived in the United States. When we first got off the plane, we were excited to see Hollywood, eat Big Macs, and ride cable cars (I still have yet to ride on a cable car, actually). But it’s been 18 years since we thought of America as a foreign place, since we were tourists since we were blind to the socioeconomic woes that plague this country.

Our country. My brother and I, like all the other members of my family, are emotionally invested to America. This is where my siblings and my mom’s children grew up. My brother, sister, and I went to American schools, we share American values, we speak the American language, and we embrace the American culture. We still believe that, through hard work and perseverance, anyone can achieve their dream. But it’s been hard.

I stuff up my thoughts and head off to class. It’s 4:00 PM.

On my laptop, I load up today’s lecture. I had the chance to read ahead, so I’m only half-listening to the professor. While she goes over templates and Thursday’s upcoming midterm, I keep on trying to work on this post.

Unfortunately, I’m a slow writer. It takes me a long time to jot down a sentence, and ages more to finish a written assignment. I have a hard time finishing lab reports and papers, so I often give up some hours of sleep to get these assignments done. At least, this week, I can still pull out some time to share my story. At least, I can find some optimism in this otherwise dreadful semester.

My family is struggling. My mom no longer sews for a living, because her joint pains make it difficult for her to work. My brother has a hard time finding work, and is limited to odd jobs at restaurants and bars through referral by friends. My sister, an accountant, was recently laid off. To make ends meet, we rent out parts of our house. I try to do my part by tutoring a few hours a week – it’s not much, but it pays for food. With the fee increases for colleges, my mom had to take out equity on our home to fund my education.

Every day, I’m struggling to keep my morale up. The stress and uncertainty is stifling, and it’s been hard for me to relax and breathe. I’m scared that I’m going to fail, that I’m going to crash and burn before this semester is up. I’m worried that I’ll repeat what happened two semesters ago, when the daily barrage of negative self-talk and inability to meet deadlines on my assignments drove me into a spiraling depression and got me disqualified from my program. I’m scared that I, age 23, with no work experience in my field of study, will amount to nothing when I’m out of college.

I’m working hard, trying to excel in my classes and comprehend the material, trying to prove that I’m worth educating and worth society’s efforts to fund my attendance in these classes. I’m working hard trying to live up to my family’s expectations and sacrifices, and trying to prove to the university that I’m going to be an excellent engineer and worth readmitting back into the college.

But all the while, I’m questioning my ability, and doubting my worth. And all the while, I long to get back into the covers, and bury my thoughts in sleep.

I get back to my place, and try to finish my blog. I didn’t expect to sleep tonight, but I pass out anyway.

It’s 2:00 AM, Wednesday.
By New, ASPIRE (Asian Students Promoting Immigrant Rights through Education) Member

In honor of National Coming Out Week: Undocumented and Unafraid we are featuring stories of API dreamers.  The DREAM Act would provide undocumented students that arrived before the age of 16 in the US a pathway to legalization.

The fact that I’m an undocumented student.

My whole life has been fueled by this fact.

Ever since I immigrated to the United States at the age of nine, my number one priority has been to do my best to excel in academics. My parents had told me that our immigration statuses were complicated and were to be ignored. My sole focus, as I began to believe, was to go to school, make friends, learn English, and get A’s. In fact, that’s what I did and I was allowed to temporarily forget about what it meant to be without proper documentation in the United States.  I had hoped that someday and somehow, my hard work in school would be the savior of all my problems. By the time I had entered high school, I had mastered the English language as well as any American teenager. Still, a perfect academic record could not shield me from reality.

-When all of my friends were first getting driver’s licenses and driving cars to school: I couldn’t afford a car.

-When all of my friends flaunted their IDs at the box office to watch 300 and Superbad: I didn’t get a chance to make one yet.

-When all of my friends told me to fill out my FAFSA: I’ll do it before the deadline.

These were my excuses. When topics of financial aid, work, or ID’s ever came up, I stayed silent and hoped that nobody talked to me; that noone pointed the conversation my way. I hated making excuses and I was afraid that my usual attempt to cover up would fail. One of these times, I thought, I would choke up, and everyone would know. But it never happened, because I made sure to stay away from the law. My dad, as good of a driver as he is, has gotten stopped several times for minor traffic violations. Sitting in the backseat, watching as the policeman lit up the car with probing flashlights, I would be gripped with fear. My arms and legs froze and I made sure not to give the cops any reason for suspicion. The only sound in the air would be that of my heart beating faster and faster trying to burst out of my chest.

My whole life has been consumed by this fact. I was afraid.

As it turns out, though, my step into higher education at UC Berkeley became nothing less than life changing. Through no strength of my own, my eyes were allowed to be opened to new cultures and new groups. I met other non-citizen students, allies, supporters, and considered for the first time in my life “coming out” to even the closest of friends. I learned of hardships that were more extreme than mine and of the activism many are doing to try to change and absolve those challenges. I realize that there are always opportunities out there for me to reach for–I just need to grab it. I wanted to be a part of that movement; to be one of the aspiring DREAMers. I want to be able to use my degree to support myself and my family when I graduate. I will pursue my passion for medicine. I want to put a face to my story and I want to show everyone why I, too, belong here, in America.

So Here I Stand. I am undocumented and am now unafraid.

By May, ASPIRE (Asian Students Promoting Immigrant Rights through Education) Member

In honor of National Coming Out Week: Undocumented and Unafraid we are featuring stories of API dreamers.  The DREAM Act would provide undocumented students that arrived before the age of 16 in the US a pathway to legalization.

I am undocumented. There, I wrote it. I have proclaimed it. And although those are just three simple words, the devastating thought behind them has been instilling fear and anxiety in my life ever since I was small. Until now.

I can get into the details of my family’s past, about how my PhD neurosurgeon and eastern medicine practitioner “Dr. Dad” survived his first few months in the United States as a dishwasher, about how after only one year he made enough to send the rest of his family, including his wife and twin daughters, to his new home in Oakland, CA, and about how my parents became entrepreneurs opening business after business only five years after immigrating, but I won’t get into it. That story has been repeated to no avail.

I can also get into the details of my own personal past, about how I learned enough English through ESL and watching TV from first grade that by the middle of second grade, I had no trouble getting A’s in all my classes, about how I took AP everything I can get my hands on in high school, about getting accepted into a prestigious university, and about how people ask me why I don’t have an accent or why aren’t I getting my driver’s license, but many people whom have the same dilemma as I do have the same experiences which they have already shared.

What I want to share are my experiences about planning my future and staying positive about the present. At this point in our immigration situation, I feel that I have nothing to lose and so I share.

Currently, I am in my 3rd year at UC Berkeley studying biology and am on the pre-med pathway. I cannot wait until I graduate! I hope to go to a healthcare vocational school afterward, maybe medical or physician’s assistant or an EMT/Paramedic. After that I hope to get a job doing what I have been training in school for a couple of years. Then I want to go into the Peace Corp. Maybe after that, I’ll apply to medical school (UCSF!) if I still think it’s the path I want to take. This is my ideal future. But this is the future I face. After graduating, I will have a BA degree from a prestigious university but I cannot get a job because I am not permitted to work in the US. Even if I do go to a vocational school, I cannot get a job afterward. The only things I can do are become a babysitter, or a nanny, or a tutor, or even a maid. Hopefully I can, at best, become a personal assistant. The Peace Corp is out of my reach because one has to be a US citizen in order to join. Medical school is just too expensive without any financial assistance and my parents have paid enough as it is for my undergraduate education.

Another aspiration I have is to get married to the man I love. I met him in my 2nd year of high school and it’s now been five years. He knows everything about me, including my status, and loves me anyway. It took me three years to finally tell him and ever since then, he has been supportive. We went to prom together, helped each other on college applications, fought and made up, taken care of each other when we were sick, distracted each other from homework, and everything else that all loving, young couples do. I want to get married because we truly and honestly love each other. But this is what the law automatically thinks. I want to get married because it’s a way for me to get my status changed from undocumented to legal. I am a fraud and our love is a lie. In order to prove that a marriage between us is real, we have to get a lawyer, go through an extensive interview process where family and friends are questioned about our relationship, we are questioned about intimate details like what kind of shampoo I use or what kind of razor he shaves with, have inspections of our home to make sure that we live together, and other fantastic ways that breach invasion of privacy. After all this, I will still have a three year probation period where I am issued temporary legalization. If we fail at any of these tasks, our love and marriage is deemed fake and I will be deported. I want to get married for love, but they will always assume that it’s a lie.

So how do I stay sane and even positive when my future looks so bleak? After years of lying to friends, avoiding conversations, and staying quiet I finally have had enough. I decided that even though my undocumented status is the most negative thing in my life, I will not let it take over. I will live the life I want, the life I and my family have been working hard for and will not take no for an answer. I have the mind and am just stubborn enough to keep trying. I can be sad and angry about it, but I would rather join ASPIRE and fight for what is right for all the other undocumented students who have worked just as hard and suffered just as much as I did. I have hope that something good will happen out of all this bad and all of our combined anger can generate enough noise to wake up the government to do the right thing. And when my love and marriage is investigated, I will comply with dignified anger the whole way through.

Imagine yourself 10 years ago. How old were you? I’m sure you have witnessed a tremendous amount of change in your looks, intelligence, height, maturity, and beliefs. Take for example, your political beliefs. Whatever your political
stance may be (or lack thereof), we can both agree that 10 years is a long time. I mean, it’s 5 MILLION MINUTES!

But in retrospect, 10 years also flew by. Some days were filled with grandiose milestones, like your 21st birthday; other days filled with solemn moments, like an unexpected passing of a friend. For some, life is an adventure with tiny bumps. For others, life is a constant roller coaster ride.

It has been 4 years since I started advocating for the Dream Act in 2008. I could only imagine the pain inflicted on the hearts of those who have waited since the introduction of the Dream Act in 2001. I want to share with you a film
created by a fellow undocumented friend that highlights his 10-year experience as an undocumented youth. This Wednesday, August 1, marked the 10th anniversary of the Dream Act.

People like Julio (in the video) continue to inspire me to share my story and put a human face on this issue. He embodies perseverance, courage, and honesty. Julio is the quintessential American. Just as Jose Antonio Vargas reminded many undocumented students “We’re Americans; we just don’t have the right papers” we cannot be discouraged by a minority of Senators who blocked the Dream Act last December.

10 years passed, and little has changed in Congress. The Dream Act still stands as a bill, yet to become law. However, we have seen dramatic change within our community. Who could have imagined hundreds of undocumented youths openly declare their statuses in public 10 years ago? Who could have imagined undocumented youths testifying in Congress? Who could have imagined undocumented youths conducting acts of civil disobedience? Much has changed in the public’s eyes. Wait, aren’t our Representatives in Congress supposed to
represent the public?

While the Dream Act stalls in Congress, there is something you can do to lift the voices and dreams of the undocumented youth. Please take 1 minute to sign this online petition that I created with some friends.  President Obama has the power to bypass Congress and halt the deportation of all Dream Act eligible students by issuing an executive order.

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    August 2011